Get the most out of your visit with your doctor and cancer specialist
To get the most out of your visit to your doctor or specialist, you might find it useful to:
- Request a longer appointment if you have a number of issues to discuss
- Prepare a short list of questions beforehand in order of most important
- Write down answers if possible or ask the doctor to do so
- Take a friend or relative for support to listen for you
Remember, if you don’t understand the answers it is ok to ask your doctor to explain again. If you have difficulty communicating in English, prior to the appointment ask for an interpreter.
Questions to ask your doctor
There are many different cancers, each with different treatments. Your doctor can give you the information that is specific to you.
It can be helpful to prepare a list of questions to ask your doctor, remembering you may need to request a longer consultation.
Cancer Council WA understands that this may be a confusing time and have produced the factsheet ‘questions to ask your doctor’, which outlines general questions. It is a good tool to start with if you are overwhelmed by all the information that is coming your way. Then you could ask your doctor more specific queries about tests, treatments and participating in clinical trials.
You can also request a copy of the factsheet from our 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line.
Rights as a patient
When cancer is diagnosed you enter into a partnership with your doctor and other health care professionals.
You have a right to:
- Ask questions of your doctor and your multidisciplinary team
- Be sufficiently informed about the details of your care to enable you to make an informed choice about treatment from the options available to you
Cancer Council WA produce a booklet Cancer Care and Your Rights (available from our Publications page) – A practical guide for people with cancer, their families and friends.
This booklet outlines what you can reasonably expect of your treatment team and the health care system. It’s about working in partnership – not about making demands of your doctors or treatment team. Just as you can expect certain things of your doctors and the health care system, you also have responsibilities.
Getting a second opinion
You may want to ask for a second opinion from another specialist. This could help your decision making. Your specialist or local doctor will respect your decision and can refer you to another specialist. You can also ask for copies of your results to be made available to the second-opinion specialist.
You can ask for a second opinion even if you have started treatment or still want to be treated by your first specialist.
It is important that you have a trusting and respectful relationship with your specialist if you don’t, then consider finding another one. If you do trust them, and work with them, you will gain the most from your appointments and your treatment.
What is a multidisciplinary team?
Often you will have a number of people involved in your care. This can be referred to as a multidisciplinary team.
A multidisciplinary team is a team of experts who plan the best treatment in partnership with you. They will work closely together to ensure you are offered the best available treatment. Your team may include medical oncologists or haematologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, pathologists, specialist cancer nurse coordinators or practitioners, specialist chemotherapy nurses, pharmacists, allied health professionals such as a dietician, physiotherapist, social workers, clinical psychologist, and pastoral carer.
Feel free to ask your team any questions. Let them know if you have concerns about your treatment and how you are feeling.
Costs involved with treatment
You have a right to know how much your treatment will cost you. A serious illness often causes practical and financial difficulties. A basic understanding of the health care system in Australia can help avoid some hidden costs. Please discuss with your treating doctors what costs you may incur.
In Australia the health system consists of a government funded health system Medicare, and a private health system.
For further assistance with managing the financial cost of your treatment you may want to contact the social worker at your treatment centre or contact the social worker at Centrelink. Financial assistance may be available through benefits and pensions to help with the cost of prescription medicines and for travel to medical appointments.
Our 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line can suggest practical measures to help you understand and plan your finances. Cancer Council WA also offer a free financial advisory service to eligible clients.
What does Medicare cover?
Medicare is an Australian (Commonwealth) and State government funded public health care system. It provides free treatment for public patients in public hospitals and free or subsidised care by providers such as doctors and specialists.
Medicare is available to Australian residents. If you are in Australia on a temporary visa, you are eligible for Medicare only if you are from a country that has a ‘Reciprocal Health Care Agreement’ with Australia. You can check eligibility by calling the Medicare Customer Service Centre on 13 20 11. The Medicare Safety Net protects you against high medical costs for non-hospital care. It covers services such as visits to a GP or a specialist, x-rays, blood tests, scans, and ultrasounds.
If you are bulk billed, the cost of services are met by Medicare, otherwise you’ll have to pay extra. That’s the case even if your doctor only charges the scheduled fee, as Medicare refunds only 85%. The other 15% is called the gap amount (correct as at May 2022).
If your doctor charges more than the scheduled fee your extra costs would be higher. The difference between what Medicare refunds and what your doctor charges is referred to as the out-of-pocket cost.
You can speak to someone at the Medicare Customer Service Centre on 13 20 11 or visit Medicare Australia to find out how much of your treatment may be covered by Medicare and how much of the gap you may have to pay.
Private health insurance cover
Private health insurers offer some cover for medical services not covered by Medicare, like private hospital cover, dental, physiotherapy and ambulance services.
If you have private health insurance you can contact your private health insurer to see what treatment costs may be covered and what out of pocket expenses you may face. Using your private health insurance will allow you to be treated by the doctor of your choice. For more information, please visit the Australian government information page on private health insurers.
Financial assistance with medications
Medicines available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) can be discounted under the PBS Safety Net. You need to register for the Medicare Safety Net.
Please note, you will need to keep a record yourself. Get a Prescription Record Form from your pharmacy and be sure not to misplace it. You’ll need to take it with you every time you buy a PBS medicine, so your pharmacist can record each purchase.
For further information please visit the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme or phone 1800 020 613.
Your oncologist or haematologist will tell you about conventional medical treatments. These are also called ‘evidence based’, ‘mainstream’ ‘medical’ and ‘standard’. They include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapy. These are recommended because there is scientific evidence they are the best treatment options for you. They have been tested in clinical trials and/or evaluated after many years with patients.
Unfortunately, there are a minority of people who may falsely promote ‘cancer cure’ treatments which do not have an evidence base and these can be dangerous. There are also people who may wrongly claim that mainstream or conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapies don’t work.
Be wary if someone:
- Suggests your cancer has been caused by poor diet or stress and claims your cancer can be cured with a special diet
- Promises a cure for your cancer or to detoxify, purify or revitalise your body
- Charges you a lot of money and asks for it upfront
It is important you talk to your doctor before using any type of therapy so that you can discuss your needs and decide together the safest therapies for your situation. It may be safe to use certain therapies alongside your standard cancer treatment.
Some herbs and vitamin supplements can cause adverse side effects or affect your cancer treatment, and some may even stop your mainstream treatment from working. Inform your doctor before you take any product.
Complementary and alternative therapies
You may be wondering what is the difference between complementary or alternative therapies?
Complementary therapies are used alongside your conventional treatment and are increasingly considered supportive for people with cancer. Examples of commonly used complementary therapies include acupuncture, meditation, massage, reflexology, and Reiki. While these therapies have not been scientifically proven to treat or cure cancer, many are known to help some people feel and cope better with cancer and treatment options.
Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional (mainstream) cancer treatments.
Alternative therapies may carry claims that they stop cancer growth or even cure cancer. Alternative therapies may be harmful if people with cancer delay or stop using conventional treatments. They are often expensive and may promote extreme diets or lifestyle changes. Examples of alternative therapies are microwave therapy, ozone therapy, magnet therapy, high-dose supplements of vitamins or other compounds such as laetrile (B17), shark cartilage, mistletoe extract or melatonin. Some herbs and nutritional supplements interact with chemotherapy or other medications.
It is important you talk to your doctor before using any type of therapy so that you can discuss your needs and decide together the safest therapies for your situation.
Integrative medicine is the use of conventional and complementary therapies with proven benefits as a way of caring for someone. There is some high quality evidence of the safety and effectiveness of the therapies used in integrative medicine and there are a number of general medical practitioners who practice integrative medicine. The Australasian Integrative Medicine Association website provides more information.
Does Cancer Council WA recommend any complementary therapies for cancer patients?
Cancer Council WA offer a range of complementary therapies free to those affected by cancer in Western Australia.
Programs and choice of therapies offered are guided by Cancer Council WA and the Complementary and Integrative Therapy Advisory Group (CITAG), who includes health professionals, complementary therapists and cancer patients. CITAG guides the development of safe protocols for therapists and information sheets for cancer patients wishing to use a particular therapy.
Go to our Complementary Therapies page for more information about the Cancer Council WA complementary therapy program.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may want to know about clinical trials and what role they may have in your treatment. Clinical trials are research studies that test new and better ways of improving health in people.
Go to our Clinical Trials page for more information about clinical trials, including those available to cancer patients in Western Australia.
The Cancer Council WA booklet Understanding Clinical Trials and Research is a guide for people with cancer, their families and friends. This resource is available to download.
You should direct any questions about clinical trials for your type of cancer to your doctor or specialist.
To further discuss any of your concerns about this information please call our 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line.
You may like to discuss treatment with a specialist Cancer Nurse Coordinator
For public patients, the Cancer Nurse Coordination service is a free statewide service provided by the WA Health Department for people affected by cancer within Western Australia. The team is made up of specialist nurses who are highly knowledgeable about cancer and cancer treatments.
The specialist Cancer Nurse Coordinator can:
- Provide information on your diagnosis and treatment
- Liaise with your treating hospital and other services
- Assist you through the health care system and find the best services to help you and your family
- Act as a central point of contact
- Coordinate appointments
The service is available Monday to Friday during business hours.
If your issue is urgent, please contact your GP or your nearest emergency department.
For more information and contact details about the specialist Cancer Nurse Coordinator that may be suitable for your cancer, please contact the Cancer Nurse Coordination Service.
For private patients, there may be an associated Cancer Nurse Coordinator as part of the team. We recommend you ask your medical team if this is available to you.